Monday, May 7, 2012

O.C.P.: water savings in mouse country

This is the first in a series of entries about the projects I am working on in Gainesville. This post focuses on the Orange County Project (OCP) – an Orlando-based collaborative effort between Orange County Utilities (OCU), South Florida Water Management District, St. Johns River Water Management District, Water Research Foundation and UF/IFAS.

Orlando-bound: sunrise over the Turnpike

Doing it big!

On permanent watering restrictions since 2010 (one or two days a week depending on the time of year) and actively fining violators regardless of watering source (potable or ground), Orange County (OC) is serious about water conservation. In this context, early last year OC agreed to a multi-year study to assess the water-savings potential of smart irrigation control devices – in this case soil moisture sensors (SMS) and on-site, evapotranspiration-based (ET) timers.

The more things change...: potable water waste at Orlando commercial property

In the initial stages, the water-use history of thousands of properties was analyzed, but only several hundred advanced to the survey-taking phase. From there, even less qualified for physical irrigation system assessment by researchers and subsequent invitation to participate in the project.

OCU furnishes the water-use data from smart meters installed at research sites

Currently, water use and turf quality data is collected from 167 homeowner properties, varying in turf type, soil type, and size of irrigated area. The irrigation treatments are monitor only, SMS and ET.

The sweetest plum

SMS add-on device wired to a residential automated timer

One fascinating aspect of the study involves the latter treatments described above. Properties with SMS and ET technology also vary with respect to how much engagement they had with UF staff. While some homeowners were shown how their technology works and various adjustment options; others were sent information through the mail and left at the mercy of the user’s guide and the device-installing contractor.

Research site: turf worth writing home about

Because long-term research objectives include wide promotion of smart irrigation control devices (possibly through a rebate program) as well as restriction exemptions for any property installing this technology, the data this limited-engagement treatment generates is especially insightful. If a county of 1.2 million moves toward the popular use of smart irrigation technology to either conserve more or simply avoid watering restrictions, the viability of self-instruction and irrigation contractor expertise will be critical.

Home under study: project-issued restriction exemption

Enter the dragon...(or me)

Insssspecting SMS wiring in a valve box

I transitioned into OCP only days after arriving from South Florida. The first order of business: auto-calibrate SMS devices on 63 properties in the greater-Orlando area.

Auto-calibration, step 1: saturate suspected TDT sensor location

Auto-calibration, step 2: engage the SMS auto-calibration feature

My additional OCP tasks include massaging water-use data, attending to homeowners with ET timer gripes, and conducting periodic turf quality assessments – old hat for a tech forged in the water-wasting badlands of Miami-Dade. As of last week, all SMS properties have been visited and the first round of auto-calibrations is complete.

Note to self: don't report this property

1 comment:

  1. Mike - sounds like an interesting project. Can't wait to see the results. Nice squirrel pic! No gators?